The Pic du Midi observatory in France is renowned for its very stable atmospheric conditions, allowing high resolution pictures to be taken. Our air commonly blurs out finer details of astronomical objects; there are ways to compensate, but it’s nice to not have to worry about it in the first place.
So pictures of the planets taken from the 2800-meter-elevation observatory are surpassingly beautiful. I was searching online for some Jupiter info yesterday, and stumbled on a video of the King of the Planets made using observations from Pic du Midi from October 10 - 15, 2001, and, well, it’s stunning. See for yourself:
WOW. Make sure you set the resolution to 720.
I love how it feels like you’re floating over Jupiter as it spins beneath you! Of course, the Great Red Spot is visible, as well as many other circular and highly-elliptical storms. Jupiter is huge, 140,000 km (86,000 miles) across – 11 times the diameter of the Earth. So even in this high-res video, the smallest features you’re seeing are hundreds of kilometers wide!
Despite its enormous size, Jupiter’s day is only about ten hours long. In this video, the bulk motion you see is the planet rotating on its axis, but it’s essentially impossible to see any movement in the clouds themselves. Incredibly, those storms are swept along for hundreds of thousands of kilometers as the planet spins, but in that short time the structure of the clouds hardly changes at all. It’s a study in contrasting velocity.
Right now, Jupiter rises in the east at sunset, making it available all night for observing. When I was in Texas earlier this week the UTPA astronomy folks had some telescopes set up, and Jupiter was a favorite target. All four Galilean moons were visible, and the planet itself showed beautiful detail. If you get a chance to see it through a telescope over the next couple of months, take it! You won’t regret it.
Credit : S2P/IMCCE/OPM/JL Dauvergne/Elie Rousset/Eric Meza/Philippe Tosi/François Colas/Jean Pajus/Xavi Nogués/Emil Kraaikamp